Monday, June 25, 2012

This blog looks ugly.

I got tired of the design for the blog.  I always thought it looked kind of atrocious.  This is just a placeholder until I can figure something out.  Something that doesn't look quite as bland.

Anyway, I'm still working my way through Assassin's Creed Revelations.  The mechanics powering it are definitely showing their age; races are incredibly stupid and frustrating, for example, and having to chase a target just makes me swear at everything.  But the game is still fun for the most part, and there's so much appealing stuff to do it's too easy to get sidetracked.

I'm on memory sequence 6 right now.  There's a hint of political intrigue in the story, but honestly the plot isn't that interesting.  Altair's sequences aren't that fun either, mostly because I didn't play AC1 and so most of the characters and plot elements don't make sense to me.  I guess Altair was betrayed rather often in his time, though.

I got an iPad 3, and I'm amazed by the battery.  Not only by how long it takes to run out, but by how long it takes to charge.  At first I thought it was the adapter I was using (I was using the adapter and cable for my old classic iPod that I used to have back in high school), but this thing really seems to charge at a trickle pace.

It's a really neat device, though.  I feel like I can get a lot done on it.  The screen is great too, but I had a 4th generation iPod Touch beforehand, so I'm used to the Retina Display gimmick.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Let's talk about VNs.

So normally I don't mention VNs because 1)I've only played a couple of them and 2)I don't really find them comment-worthy.

But seeing as I have nothing else to talk about, I wanted to sit down and contemplate the MuvLuv trilogy.  The reason why is because I find it rather fascinating.

The series' core cast of heroines
The MuvLuv Trilogy consists of MuvLuv Extra, MuvLuv Unlimited (collectively known as simply MuvLuv) and MuvLuv Alternative.  The series starts with Extra, which introduces us to our protagonist Takeru Shirogane, and much of the core cast of characters.

Childhood friend Sumika is the main heroine
There is nothing particularly outstanding about MuvLuv Extra.  It's a straightforward, dime-a-dozen romantic harem story with some bits of comedy and drama sprinkled in for good measure.  Modern Japanese storytelling for a young adult audience is absolutely flooded by stories of this sort.  To be sure, it has its moments of genuine hilarity and sincere emotion.  But don't be mistaken; you've seen or read this story before.  And MuvLuv Extra is probably not the best version of it either.

You might grow tired of the typical character archetypes (yes, there's even a childhood friend), average writing, and conventional attempts at humor.  The plot--strung together by a cook-off between the heroines to win your attention, followed by a lacrosse arc especially permeated with unnecessary melodrama (particularly depending on who's affections you're pursuing), and of course, topped off with a hot springs arc--will feel unexceptional to most and downright monotonous to some.

It's hard to see where developer age (yes, it's all lowercase) could be going with this tale, especially since MuvLuv Unlimited--unlocked only after completing Extra--has Takeru waking up one morning to find that he has stumbled into another reality.  One where terrifying aliens known as the BETA have invaded Earth, and humanity is fighting a losing war against them with giant mechs known as TSFs, or Tactical Surface Fighters.

There are so many questions on Takeru's mind, and by extension, the reader's own.  How did this happen?  Why Takeru?  What are the BETA?  Where are all his friends?  Cruelly, MuvLuv Unlimited does not deign to answer most of these questions.  Instead of focusing on elaborating on the nature of Takeru's new setting, Unlimited instead focuses on Takeru himself.  How he's adapting to this new, harsh world.  A world where humanity's population has already been reduced to 1 billion, soldiers consider themselves lucky to survive longer than eight minutes in combat, and humans are forced to lay waste to their own land using weapons of mass destruction to have any hope of driving back the BETA.  Unlimited focuses so much on Takeru that it even manages to get away with not actually showing us what the BETA look like for the entire game.  The result however is that in spite of everything, Unlimited manages to stay relatively lighthearted.

Humanity's invasion strategy against the BETA usually consists of several phases
of long-range shelling and bombardment from sea and space, before moving in the ground force

And then comes Alternative.  Where to begin?  As the final entry in the saga, MuvLuv Alternative has a lot of answering to do.  It has to make up for all the questions Unlimited failed to answer, and all the worldbuilding Unlimited failed to do.  It does that, and so much more, and by then it's not even halfway done with you.

What people don't realize until they are sucked into MuvLuv Alternative is that MuvLuv Extra was clever.  For one thing, as you play through Alternative, you realize that Extra was positively riddled with foreshadowing and easter eggs.  Despite the fact that Alternative came out three years after the original MuvLuv, it's clear that age knew what kind of story they wanted tell right from the very beginning.

But more importantly, Extra provides contrast.  So much contrast it's painful.  At the beginning of MuvLuv Alternative, Takeru wakes up once more to find himself in Unlimited's wartorn reality, but he's been transported back 3 years in the beginning of Unlimited.  But this time, he's a man with a plan.  He's going to use everything he learned and accomplished in Unlimited to save the world.

But he has another thing coming.  Age has a lot planned for Takeru, the reader, and everyone the reader and Takeru hold dear.  MuvLuv Alternative is a dark, gruesome story.  Nobody is safe, nothing is sacred.  It's been a long time since I've seen a protagonist get dragged through the mud quite like the gauntlet of tragedy and despair ML Alternative has prepared for Takeru.  Somehow age manages to make each death hurt more than the last, which is truly saying something, considering the first major death involves someone getting their head bitten off.

MuvLuv Alternative uses this constant air of doom to its advantage.  Every moment of triumph feels downright glorious.  But these moments are rare and fleeting, and almost always come at a horrible price.

We all thought Extra was boring and average and typical, but several hours into Alternative, after we've seen Takeru practically tear his hair out in depression and madness, or watched yet another friend die, or witnessed humanity's complete desperation against the BETA on full display....we find ourselves missing those idle days, which suddenly feel like some faraway memory.  It was all fun and games back then, when all Takeru and the reader had to worry about was which girl he was going to have sex with.  They were often dull and uninteresting, but at least they were peaceful.

And so we arrive again at this concept of contrast.  How age uses it to incredible effect to strengthen the impact of Alternative, and force us to re-evaluate our appreciation of what Extra brings to the table.  You never know what you have until it's gone, and by the time you've gotten a little bit into Alternative, I think we can all agree that there's nobody who knows this better than Takeru Shirogane.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's been a while, Ezio.

I started playing Assassin’s Creed Revelations the other day.  I really loved Assassin’s Creed 2, and enjoyed Brotherhood.  But Revelations…just isn’t doing it for me.  I only played for about 45 minutes though…maybe I just need to get back into the groove of things.

It’s just that, after coming from games like Arkham City, which do a lot of what Revelations does better than Revelations itself, suddenly this latest Assassin’s Creed entry feels super dated.  It doesn’t help that I know I don’t have much to look forward to in regards to new toys.

I don’t know if I’m gonna write a review for it.  I know I won’t score it, because I only intend to go through the singleplayer, as I’ve been meaning to.

In other news, Gamefly has Catherine on sale.  I think I’ll buy it.   I couldn’t afford to when I played it, but that game is really good, and I don’t like letting really good games get away from me.

I also played a little bit of Civilization V last weekend.  I just can’t express how phenomenally addictive that game is.  I already won my scientific victory, now I’m playing the part of the global bouncer, and have started my campaign against Siam, who’ve been bullying just about everyone BUT me (because I’m so much bigger and more prosperous than them).  The plan is to basically leave Siam’s original territory a nuclear wasteland, while liberating the Japanese cities.

If I had known that you could continue playing after winning (I really should have guessed), I would have destroyed Siam a lot sooner.  They were getting too big for their britches.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Note on Xenoblade Chronicles

So recently, this game called Xenoblade Chronicles was granted a quiet localization by Nintendo.  People wouldn't stop raving about it, so I convinced myself to dust off my Wii (which I had thought for sure I would never turn on again) and give it a shot.  I'm glad I did.

I'm not going to write a review for the game, because I literally do not have enough time to spare on it (it's a huge game; like Dark Cloud 2 huge).  But I wanted to take some time mention that it really is one of the better JRPGs of the generation.

From what I could tell from the couple of hours I put into it, Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't really try to do anything brand new, gameplay wise.  Instead, it takes traditional ideas and simply focuses on executing them well.  There's fetch quests, yeah.  But the game helps you separate quest items (even items that aren't actually quest items yet because you haven't accepted the related quest) with markers.  It also gives most quest givers a name and a bit of background.  Every named NPC shows up on a big ol' relationship chart that fills out itself as you talk to more people.  Small things like these add up to put a fresh spin on stale mechanics.  Xenoblade also adopts the modern JRPG trend of reducing player reliance on items and inns by not having items and having your health rapidly recharge outside of battle.

What actually hooked me, and what made me finally decide to give Xenoblade Chronicles a shot was the story and setting, however.  The game spans the bodies of two giant titans--Bionis and Mechonis--who have been fighting since the beginning of time.  One supports organic life, and the other machines, known as Mechons.  Just like the beings on which they reside, humans are locked in an eternal conflict with Mechons, who invade from Mechonis periodically to murder and kidnap people for seemingly no reason.  The story revolves around Shulk, who comes to possess a powerful, mysterious anti-Mechon weapon called the Monado, and decides to use it strike back against the Mechons.

It's not often you play a game with such a unique setting.  Hearing Gametrailers' review describe it, I found myself instantly hooked.  It doesn't hurt the characters and the way they interact with each other is well-written and feels genuine.  The game was originally localized for Europe, so the voice acting is permeated by British accents; but this only helps further separate Xenoblade from the rest of its contemporaries, as anyone who's played a fair number of JRPGs in English will know that the genre pulls from a fairly small pool of dubbing actors.

So I'm glad I gave this game a chance.  It's really neat and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in JRPGs.  Unless you didn't like Final Fantasy 12.  It does feel very similar to that game.